Introduction and the Middle Ages
“An Englishman’s home is his castle” but some “castles” are rather finer and more comfortable than others. We begin with an overview of our theme, exploring how the evolution of our domestic spaces serves changing life-styles before considering the castles, monasteries, halls and huts of the Middle Ages.
Exile and Splendour
The triumphant return of the Tudors in 1485 brought with it the Renaissance. We look at the Continental buildings that court and monarchy aspired to emulate and how and why this changed expectations at home. And why are staircases so significant?
Fixtures and Fittings
The later 16th century saw a real improvement in living standards across the country. We see not only the houses of the wealthy but the changing expectations of the merchant class, and the objects and furniture with which they adorned their homes. Outdoors, for the first time, we see the birth of interest in gardens, highly controlled and in tune with the indoor style of the age.
Dynasties in Transition
Elizabeth I cannily spent much of her time as house guest of her greatest nobles and it was therefore these, rather than the monarch, who were responsible for the most sumptuous buildings of her reign. Before a Civil War put it all under threat, new comforts and sophistication become apparent in silver furniture, the work of foreign artists such as Anthony van Dyck and the plant collections and garden designs of two generations of John Tradescants.
Privacy and Palladianism
The great Palladian houses of the 18th century represent a revolution in lifestyle as much as in architecture. Graceful and essentially rural, they combine elegance with the possibility of intimacy, comfort with a managed offer of sophisticated activities. Against a background of upheaval in France and the agricultural revolution in England, the revolution in gardening is no less profound – from geometry to the “natural” landscapes of Capability Brown.
A Consumer Culture
New houses require new furnishings, and the Grand Tour was the perfect opportunity to acquire great collections – statuary, paintings and decorative arts reflecting a society desperate for cultural status. Side by side with this, stars of the Industrial Revolution like Josiah Wedgwood and Thomas Chippendale were developing a dazzling range of affordable new products for the rising and aspirational middle classes.
Antique or Exotic?
The development of Bath, Buxton and other spa towns, the London buildings of John Nash, brings classical discipline to centres of fashionable society, and new public parks provide spaces for health and stylish promenades. But the Age of Reason also provokes a revolt in the form of fantasy projects drawing on influences from Indian to Gothic.
Under Queen Victoria the Empire prospered, and provided exciting furnishings and plant species, staff were plentiful and the vast interiors were made more liveable by new technologies, such as electricity. For the “have-nots”, though, the reality could be a festering urban slum from which only cafes, bars and pubs provided escape.
“You Just Can’t Get The Staff……”
The 20th C begins with the Edwardian heyday of country house living and moves to the 1974 V&A exhibition, “The Destruction of the Country House”, which recorded the loss of some 1000 country houses in barely a century. Sustained for a while by American heiresses and the commercial classes, rural and aristocratic dominance collapses and the emphasis shifts to the demands of industry, the city and the middle classes.
Stately homes, Suburbs and Skyscapers
The dominant focus of the 20th C is urban – and so, therefore, is its architecture. Towns spread, buildings rise ever higher and private gardens are a privilege - the 20th century takes us from P. G. Wodehouse to “Digging for Britain” and the Shard.